Humean Arguments from Moral Sentimentalism and Moral Motivation

Here are two more arguments to add to the list

In Spectres of False Divinity,  Hume scholar Thomas Holden argues that Hume accepted moral atheism -- very roughly, the view that there is no god that has moral attributes. Holden distinguishes between weak and strong moral atheism. Weak moral atheism is the view that there is no god that is morally praiseworthy. By contrast, strong moral atheism is the view that there is no morally assessable god; that is, there is no god that is a proper object of moral evaluation one way or the other. Given this distinction, it follows that strong moral atheism entails weak moral atheism, but not vice-versa. In the book, Holden argues that Hume is a strong moral atheist. 

Holden extracts from Hume's writings two arguments for moral atheism that are based on Hume's sentimentalist ethical theory: the argument from sentimentalism and the argument from moral motivation. In the conclusion of the book, Holden summarizes the two arguments as follows:

Hume has two distinct lines of argument for strong moral atheism. One appeals to his account of the natural ambit of our human passions along with his sentimentalist metaphysics of morals in order to conclude that the first cause or designer is beyond the projected, response- dependent world of moral properties. According to this argument from sentimentalism our natural feelings of approval and disapproval range only so far as the outer frontier of sense and imagination. The projected properties of virtue and vice are thus confined to the immanent world, and cannot characterize any transcendental order beyond this permanent horizon (see Chapters 3 and 4). (p. 209) 

Hume’s second argument also turns on facts about sentimental psychology, though this time the emphasis is on the deity’s own sentiments and passions (if indeed it has any). This argument from motivation appeals to Hume’s account of the passions as the engines of action along with a form of probabilistic reasoning about the likely character of any first cause or ultimate organizing principle responsible for the ordered universe. According to Hume, even though we know nothing substantive about the distinctive intrinsic character of the original cause of all, we can judge it highly unlikely that this being or principle has anything like our own sentimental psychology. But if the deity lacks some sort of approximately anthropomorphic sentimental psychology, it will not be moved by moral concerns: weak moral atheism follows. Moreover, without an approximately human-like system of passions, the deity’s behavior will be unintelligible in human terms—and for Hume this is sufficient to place this being or principle beyond the sphere of moral assessable beings: strong moral atheism also follows (see Chapter 5). (Ibid.)

Holden states the argument from sentimentalism a bit more carefully as follows:
S1. The deity is not a natural object of any human passion. 
S2. Moral sentiments are a species of human passion. 
S3. If a being is not a natural object of the moral sentiments, then it cannot have moral attributes (either virtues or vices). 
Therefore,
S4. The deity cannot have moral attributes (either virtues or vices). (p. 51)

Rico Vitz helpfully expresses the argument from moral motivation as follows:

(M1) In order to be morally assessable, a being must have a sentimental psychology sufficiently similar to that of human beings.

Therefore,

(M2) If the first cause lacks a sentimental psychology sufficiently similar to that of human beings, the first cause is not morally assessable.

(M3) The first cause does, most likely, lack a sentimental psychology sufficiently similar to that of human beings.

Therefore,

(M4) The first cause is, most likely, not morally assessable. 

Tantalizing New Argument for Russellian Monism

Giberman, Daniel. "Panprotopsychism Instantiated", Journal of the American Philosophical Association, published online 21 Oct. 2022. 

Here's the abstract:

The problem of many-over-one asks how it can be that many properties are ever instantiated by one object. A putative solution might, for example, claim that the properties are appropriately bundled, or somehow tied to a bare particular. In this essay, the author argues that, surprisingly, an extant candidate solution to this problem is at the same time an independently developed candidate solution to the mind-body problem. Specifically, what is argued here to be the best version of the relata-specific bundle theory—the thesis that each instance of compresence has a special intrinsic nature in virtue of which it necessarily bundles its specific bundle-ees—is also a species of Russellian monism, labeled by David Chalmers as ‘constitutive Russellian panprotopsychism’. The upshot of this connection is significant for the metaphysics of the mind-body problem: a credible theory of property instantiation turns out to have a built-in account of how consciousness is grounded in certain (broadly) physical systems.

Russelian monism ftw!

Foreknowledge Requires Determinism

Patrick Todd argues that divine foreknowledge requires determinism in a new article by the same name. Here's the abstract:

There is a longstanding argument that purports to show that divine foreknowledge is inconsistent with human freedom to do otherwise. Proponents of this argument, however, have for some time been met with the following reply: the argument posits what would have to be a mysterious non-causal constraint on freedom. In this paper, I argue that this objection is misguided – not because after all there can indeed be non-causal constraints on freedom (as in Pike, Fischer, and Hunt), but because the success of the incompatibilist’s argument does not require the real possibility of non-causal constraints on freedom. I contend that the incompatibilist’s argument is best seen as showing that, given divine foreknowledge, something makes one unfree – and that this something is most plausibly identified, not with the foreknowledge itself, but with the causally deterministic factors that would have to be in place in order for there to be infallible foreknowledge in the first place.

Happy reading!


100 Arguments for God...

 ...defeated.

Kudos to Joe Schmid for his fantastic work on this video. (Be warned: the video is about 12 hours long!) I highly recommend his published work, as well as his YouTube channel, The Majesty of Reason.



Gendler's Holistic Hypothetico-Deductivism: An Neglected Empiricist Account of A Priori Knowledge

Gendler, Tamar. 2001. "Empiricism, Rationalism, and the Limits of Justification", Philosophy & Phenomenological Research 6:3, 641-648.

It's perhaps understandable that the paper is not very well known, as it was written as an invited reply piece for the PPR book symposium on Bonjour's 1998 In Defense of Pure Reason. Nonetheless, Tamar Gendler's brief defense here of holistic hypothetico-deductivism shows it to be a prima facie plausible, powerful account of a priori knowledge available to the empiricist. Here are some snippets of the paper capturing a sketch of the view (click to enlarge):




And here's a snippet that gives one a sense of how the story goes with (supposed) a priori truths:



Here are a few snippets that give one a sense of how the story goes for deductive inference:




Gendler also persuasively argues that the rationalist can do no better than the hypothetico-deductivist in explaining a priori knowledge. Here’s a snippet from the last page or so:




I hope this is enough to get you to read the article in full.

Newlands' Recent Paper Arguing that PSR Leads to Monism

Newlands, Samuel. "From Theism to Idealism to Monism: A Leibnizian Path Not Taken", Phil. Studies, 2021.

Abstract: The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) has been linked to a variety of esoteric views in metaphysics. This paper explores another PSR trail through the metaphysical backwoods, this time a path from theistic idealism to substance monism. In particular, I will claim that the same style of argument that might be offered for a Leibnizian form of metaphysical idealism actually leads beyond idealism to something closer to Spinozistic monism. Our road begins with a set of theological commitments about the nature and perfection of God that were widely shared among leading early modern philosophers. From these commitments, there arises an interesting case for metaphysical idealism, roughly the thesis that only minds and mind-dependent states actually exist. However, I will argue, that same theistic reasoning also leads to an idealist form of substance monism, the view that God is the only actual substance and that almost everything else is merely an intentional object in God’s mind.

We've seen another line of reasoning like this defended recently by Michael Della Rocca.


Coley's New Paper on Evolutionary Debunking Arguments and the Problem of Evil...

...forthcoming with Sophia.

Here's the abstract:
The levers of natural selection are random genetic mutation, fitness for survival, and reproductive success. Defenders of the evolutionary debunking account (EDA) hold that such mechanisms aren’t likely to produce cognitive faculties that reliably form true moral beliefs. So, according to EDA, given that our cognitive faculties are a product of unguided natural selection, we should be in doubt about the reliability of our moral cognition. Let the term ‘sanspsychism’ describe the view that no supramundane consciousness exists. In arguing against theism, some sanspsychists advance a normative claim about the moral significance of phenomena like sentient suffering. But if no supramundane consciousness exists, our cognitive faculties are a product of unguided natural selection. It follows that if EDA is correct, the sanspsychist should not think that our moral cognition is reliable. So unless the sanspsychist has a defeater for EDA, she should not think herself justified in appealing to normative reasons for denying the existence of God.

For what it's worth, I was the commenter on an earlier version of Coley's paper at the 2018 SPR meeting. Below are the comments I presented at that meeting.

Comments on Scott Coley’s “Evolutionary Debunking and Arguments Against Theism”

1. Introduction

I want to thank Scott Coley for his stimulating paper on evolutionary debunking and arguments against theism. Coley’s paper argues that Sharon Street’s Darwinian dilemma, when combined with philosophical naturalism, defeats any epistemic grounds for moral realism the naturalist might have had. But if so, then since arguments from evil and divine hiddenness each contain a premise that crucially relies on the truth of moral realism, naturalists cannot consistently appeal to such arguments as grounds for rejecting theism. By bringing important recent work in contemporary meta-ethics to bear on the problems of evil and divine hiddenness, Coley’s argument is a welcome contribution to the dialogue concerning the epistemic credentials of theism and naturalism. 

Let us now turn to take a closer look at Coley’s argument.

2. Getting Clear on Coley’s Argument

In laying out Coley’s argument, let’s follow him by letting ‘N’ denote the normative premise in an atheistic argument (such as in the arguments from evil and divine hiddenness); letting ‘C’ denote a conclusion that theism is (at least) probably false; and letting ‘sanspsychism’ refer to any view that entails that no supramundane consciousness exists (e.g., a divine person of some sort). Coley’s core argument then runs as follows:

1. If we affirm sanspsychism then we should embrace moral skepticism.

2. If we should embrace moral skepticism then we should reject N.

3. So, if we affirm sanspychism then we should refrain from affirming N. (1, 2  

    HS)

4. If we assent to C then we should affirm sanspsychism.

5. So, if we assent to C then we should refrain from affirming N. (4,3 HS)

What to make of Coley’s argument? An initial question concerns (1) as currently stated. For Coley grants that at least some versions of moral realism are ultimately compatible with sanspsychism, viz., Peter Railton’s moral naturalism and those relevantly similar to it. Of course we’ve seen that Coley argues that Railton-style moral realism provides no help in supporting N. However, I’m not so sure about that, for reasons I’ll discuss below. Therefore, let us modify Coley’s (1) and (2) accordingly to take account of this other type of meta-ethical option allowed for the sanspsychist. The argument then runs as follows:

1’. If we affirm sanspsychism, then we should embrace either moral skepticism or

      Railton-style moral realism.

2’. If we should embrace either moral skepticism or Railton-style moral realism, 

     then we should refrain from affirming N.

3. So, if we affirm sanspsychism, then we should refrain from affirming N. (1, 2 

    HS)

4. If we assent to C, then we should affirm sanspsychism.

5. So, if we assent to C, then we should refrain from affirming N. (4,3 HS)

The bulk of the paper can then be seen as a defense of premises (1’) and (2’) of the reconstructed argument above. 

Given this reconstruction of Coley’s argument, is there any way in which a naturalist might sensibly resist it? In the remainder of the paper, I will sketch some possible replies to the first two premises of the argument on behalf of the sanspsychist. 

3. Rejecting (1’)

Start with (1’). Why should we accept it? Here is my reconstruction of Coley’s argument for the premise :

Step 1: If we affirm sanspsychism, then we should embrace moral realism.

Step 2: If we should embrace moral realism, then we should affirm that either selective evolutionary pressures are connected to the moral facts or they aren’t.

Step 3:  If we should affirm that evolutionary selective pressures are connected to the moral facts, then we should embrace Railton-style moral realism.

Step 4: If we should affirm that selective evolutionary pressures aren’t connected to the moral facts, then we should affirm that moral realism is defeated by Street’s evolutionary debunking argument.

Step 5: If we should affirm that moral realism is defeated by Street’s evolutionary debunking argument, then we should embrace moral skepticism.

1’. Therefore, if we affirm sanspsychism, then we should embrace either 

      moral skepticism or Railton-style moral realism.

I can think of four steps in this sub-argument that the non-theist might reject, viz., steps 1, 3, 4, and 5.  

Regarding Steps 1 and 5: One might be tempted to object to Step 1 on the grounds that there are plenty of sanspsychists who are living counterexamples to it, e.g., moral relativists, nihilists, and various sorts of non-cognitivists. However, remember that Coley can safely screen these cases off, as (i) he has explicitly restricted the relevant class of sanspsychists to those who want to advance an argument from evil or divine hiddenness, and (ii) (Coley argues that) such sanspsychists can only do so if they also assert both that there are facts about human morality and that human morality overlaps with God’s morality (if God exists). Having said that, however, it’s not clear to me that such restrictions screen off all relevant meta-ethical theories available to the type of sanspsychists at issue. Here I have in mind Kantian constructivist accounts. Versions include those articulated by Kant, Korsgaard, Rawls, and Scanlon. According to at least some of these versions, there are constitutive features of rational, autonomous agents from which a set of categorical imperatives necessarily flows. But if so, then if God is also a rational, autonomous agent, and we are supposed to be made in His image, then perhaps more should be said about why a sanspsychist can’t appeal to such meta-ethical theories to support normative premises in arguments from evil and divine hiddenness. 

Regarding Step 3: A number of accounts of moral realism besides Railton’s have been articulated and defended that allow — and sometimes insist — that evolution has reliably shaped our system of evaluative judgments. Perhaps the most relevant is neo-Aristotelian virtue theory, most notably developed and defended by Rosalind Hursthouse, Philippa Foot, and (most recently) Micah Lott. According to this version of virtue theory, moral goodness is analyzed in terms of what is good for members of a given species, which in turn is defined in terms of what allows its members to carry out their characteristic life-cycle, which in turn has been shaped by evolutionary factors. On this sort of account, moral knowledge is a kind of practical knowledge of how to achieve one’s species-specific goods. Given this sort of account, it is guaranteed that evolution will shape our evaluative judgments in a way that is truth-tracking. For those individuals whose evaluative judgments fail to reliably track the truth about what’s good for them are thereby selected out.

Regarding Step 4: A number of non-natural moral realists have rejected this premise. For example, moral intuitionists such as Michael Huemer argue that moral truths are necessary truths, known via reason. Therefore, the way we know moral truths is the same way we know other necessary truths (e.g. those of mathematics and philosophy). And while there is as of yet no complete account of the mechanics of a priori knowledge , this fact hasn’t led many to deny that we have mathematical knowledge. But if not, then by the same token, it shouldn’t lead one to reject moral knowledge. 

Is an intuitionist account of moral knowledge metaphysically problematic for the sanspsychist? I don’t see why it would be. That view only rules out supramundane minds, and Platonism doesn’t obviously require that such minds exist. 

Perhaps at this point one will raise Benacerraf’s epistemological objection to knowledge of abstract objects: Knowledge requires causal contact with the thing known. But causal contact is impossible with respect to abstract objects; therefore, if moral (or mathematical, or philosophical) facts are abstract, then we can’t have knowledge of them. However, given the certainty and theoretical indispensability of many of these truths, it’s not clear why intuitionists can’t here pull a G.E. Moore shift: “We have reliable belief forming processes regarding mathematical and philosophical truths. If moral facts lack causal powers, then so do these other sorts of facts. Therefore, if moral facts lack causal powers, then our having reliable belief forming processes does not require the facts about which we have beliefs to have causal powers.” (Huemer 2016)

Other (natural and) non-natural moral realists resist this horn of Street’s Darwinian dilemma in other ways. For example, Erik Wielenberg argues that while evolution didn’t select for knowledge of moral truths, it selected for something else that is adaptive and which correlates with moral truths. In particular, he argues that creatures with cognitive capacities like ours thereby have rights. But evolution didn’t select for this knowledge. Rather, it selected for our cognitive capacities, which in turn help us survive and reproduce. But creatures with such capacities are thereby able to grasp the concept of a right, and to come to believe that they have them.  

4. Rejecting (2’)

What about premise (2’)? Here is my reconstruction of Coley’s argument for it: Suppose the sanspsychist should embrace either (a) moral skepticism or (b) Railton-style moral realism. Now consider the implications of each option:

Option (a): moral skepticism

Step 1: If the sanspsychist should embrace moral skepticism, then she should (thereby) doubt the reliability of human moral cognition.

Step 2: If she should doubt the reliability of human moral cognition, then she should reject N.

Step 3: Therefore, if the sanspsychist should embrace moral skepticism, then she should reject N.


Option (b): Railton-style moral realism

Step 1: If the sanspsychist should embrace Railton-style moral realism, then she should affirm that she has no good reason to think that our morality is God’s morality.

Step 2: If she should affirm that she has no good reason to think that our morality is God’s morality, then she should reject N.

Step 3: Therefore, if the sanspsychist should embrace Railton-style moral realism, then she should reject N.

2’. Therefore, If the sanspsychist should embrace moral skepticism or Railton-style moral realism, then she should reject N.

What to make of this argument? I can imagine a naturalist raising concerns for the reasoning with both options. First, she might worry about Step 2 for both Option (a) and Option (b). This is because it’s prima facie constitutive of classical theism that God is morally perfect, that God has revealed moral obligations and prohibitions to humans (through special revelation, conscience, and perhaps other ways), and that a number of these apply to God as well.   But if so, then to consistently assert the normative premise of the problem of evil, they need merely point out that theism implies that the states of affairs at issue are morally bad, and that God’s moral perfection implies that God can’t permit them without sufficient reason. It therefore seems that even a naturalist who is a moral nihilist could consistently affirm the premises of a version of the problem of evil without committing to the truth of the moral claims involved. 

Second, a naturalist might object to Step 1 of Option (b). Here one can reiterate the ways (mentioned in Section 3) in which a naturalist might reason that human morality overlaps with God’s if God should turn out to exist. By way of reminder, they were as follows: (i) If the moral rules are those that any rational, autonomous agent would construct, and God is also a rational, autonomous agent, then prima facie, our morality overlaps with God’s; (ii) the moral rules we’ve discovered apply to at least humans. But if theism is true, then humans are made in God’s image, which presumably includes his likeness in rational and moral respects. There is therefore a presumption for thinking that our morality overlaps with God’s.

5.  Conclusion

I have offered four main replies to Coley’s argument on behalf of the naturalist or sanpsychist: (i) the debunking argument doesn’t rule out Kantian constructivist accounts of meta-ethics; (ii) some forms of moral realism appear to survive the debunking argument (e.g., Railton’s account, Huemer’s account, Wielenberg’s account, and neo-Aristotelian accounts); (iii) there are reasons to think that on any of the accounts above, our morality overlaps with God’s if he should turn out to exist; and (iv) the problems of evil and divine hiddenness can be seen as problems internal to theism itself, in which case the naturalist or sanspsychist need not have substantive moral beliefs to consistently raise them against theism. 

-------------------

Notes

i. Assume throughout that ‘morality’ denotes only accounts of morality that lack a divine source.

ii. But see Bonjour (1999), Huemer (2016), Chudnoff (2013), and Bengson (2015) for recent defenses.

iii. Wielenberg (2014), (2016).



The Argument from Necessitarianism

Here's another argument to add to the list. According to necessitarianism, everything that exists or occurs does so of absolute necessity, and nothing at all could've been other than it actually is. But according to traditional theism, contingentarianism is true and necessitarianism is false. Therefore, if necessitarianism is true, traditional theism is false. But a strong case can be made for necessitarianism. Therefore, to the extent that one finds the case for necessitarianism persuasive, one thereby has a good reason to think traditional theism is false.

A New Problem for Theistic Conceptualism

Rough draft.

Among the many objections William Lane Craig raises against theistic conceptualism, one is that it entails that God must entertain just the thoughts he does (to ground abstracta, including possible worlds), and to think them constantly, which seems to restrict God's freedom and sovereignty. Here I want to raise another problem for theistic conceptualism that stems from Craig's. The core of the problem has to do with the ground of the "must" in Craig's objection. In particular, it appears to be a modal fact that falls outside the scope of God's intellectual activity. But if one modal fact isn't accounted for by divine intellectual activity, why think any are?  Theistic conceptualism therefore looks unmotivated.

Theistic Conceptualism and the Free Will Defense

Rough Draft.

If theistic conceptualism is true, then either there are constraints on what God can think, and thus on the space of possibilities (since possible worlds are standardly taken to be among the entities God's intellectual activity is supposed to ground on theistic conceptualism), or there aren't. If there are, then there are modal facts about what God can and can't think that aren't accounted for by theistic conceptualism, in which case theistic conceptualism looks unmotivated. On the other hand, if there aren't constraints on what God can think, and thus no such constraints on the space of possibilities, then God has the ability to structure the space of possible worlds such that the doctrine of possible universal transworld depravity (PUTD) -- the core thesis of Plantinga's free will defense (FWD) -- is false. Now either PUTD is true or it's false. If it's true, then (under the assumption of the horn of the dilemma that there are no such constraints on the space of possibilities) it's God's fault that it's true, since he could've made the space of possibilities such that it's false (e.g., by generating a distribution of the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom so that it conforms to a pattern of intraworld plenitude, rather than one that conforms to one of interworld plenitude), in which case the old logical problem of evil comes roaring back. On the other hand, if it's false, then (again, still under the assumption of the same horn of the dilemma) Plantinga's FWD fails. (This seems especially problematic for Plantinga, since he's in print as a defender of theistic conceptualism.)

The Metaphysics of Modality and Plantinga's Free Will Defense: A Tension

Very rough draft.

An aspect of Plantinga's free will defense (FWD) -- in particular, his doctrine of possible universal transworld depravity (PUTD) -- has been bothering me for a good while. The worry can be put in terms of a dilemma: Either PUTD assumes the distribution of possible worlds is prior to God's will, or it assumes the distribution is posterior to it. But if PUTD relies on a distribution of possible worlds that's prior to his will (as with, say, straight Platonism), then sure, it might, for aught we know, turn out that God's hands are tied with respect to the distribution of creaturely essences across the space of possible worlds, and that distribution includes at least one world in which every creaturely essence is transworld depraved. But that assumption leads to other problems that are costly to traditional monotheists. First, it's a weird take on omnipotence: There are a lot more impossible things that we antecedently thought were possible (e.g., some actualizable creaturely essences or other at every possible world who always freely choose to do what is right of their own accord). The threat of modal skepticism looms, and in its train, skepticism about the possibility premise in Plantinga's modal ontological argument. Second, it's incompatible with Plantinga's acceptance of theistic conceptualism. Third, the existence of a distribution of possible worlds and creaturely essences that are prior to God's will (as abstract possibilia lurking in platonic space) seems incompatible with the aseity-sovereignty doctrine. 

On the other hand, suppose the distribution of possible worlds, and the distribution of creaturely essences at each world, is posterior to God's will (as seems to be the case with theistic conceptualism about abstracta, including possible worlds). Then an undercutting defeater looms for Plantinga's PUTD, and thereby his version of the FWD. For then it seems that God could've generated the space of possibilities such that PUTD is false (e.g., by generating a distribution of the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom so that it conforms to a pattern of intraworld plenitude, rather than one that conforms to one of interworld plenitude), in which case PUTD is false, in which case Plantinga's version of the FWD fails and the logical problem of evil comes roaring back.

So dilemma: Either: (i) reject theistic conceptualism, accept modal skepticism, and reject the aseity-sovereignty doctrine), or (ii) reject Plantinga's FWD. Unsavory choices all around for traditional theist.

What God Would Have Known...

 ...is the title of J.L. Schellenberg's forthcoming book , which offers a large number of novel arguments against Christian theism. I...